May 14, 2019
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Dan Neuteboom shows us an insect hotel. The problem with the pollination of early-flowering fruit trees, such as cherries, plums, greengages, apricots and peaches, is that often it is so cold, there are hardly any insects around. But when the sun does come out in those early months, it can quickly get very warm and the insects will come out. In this sort of insect hotel, which should be placed facing south, insects like hoverflies and lacewings can spend the winter. These are the insects that can help with pollination after just a few hours of sunshine. Dan shows us an open-centre greengage tree in which there is good air circulation. The basic requirements for good fruit set, in a location where there are other varieties all around, are there. The other important thing is that frost is a real danger with early-flowering fruit. The trees least at risk from spring frosts are apple trees. All the other trees flower earlier. There are various ways of avoiding the risk of frost and stopping the trees from getting hurt by frost. One technique is shown right here: the chickens keep the grass cropped right down, so that the sun can heat up the ground which can then radiate the heat back into the air at night, helping protect the trees from frost. Another useful technique is to use nets, ensuring that air circulation is not obstructed. Mulch also requires care. It is great for late-flowering fruits such as raspberries and apples, but if you put mulch around the trees early in the season, thinking particularly of frost-sensitive trees such as pears, peaches and apricots, you have to bear in mind that the mulch worsens the frost situation because it doesn’t allow the ground to absorb heat from the sun during the day. Lastly, the position of the trees should be considered when planting new trees. If you plant them in a valley where cold air can accumulate, this increases the risk of frost damage. In this case it can be useful to ensure that there is an opening in a hedge so that cold air can flow away.
In the countryside, hedges have a special role, providing protection for birds and small animals such as hedgehogs. They can be thought of as highways for fauna, connecting one coppice to the next. They are therefore important for biodiversity, and for making the countryside attractive not only to humans, but to all forms of life. Dan comments favourably on how his neighbour has planted a new hedge. This video was filmed in April. Preparation for the hedge began earlier: the farmer ploughed a ten-foot strip in February, cultivating it down to a depth of 8-10 inches. He then removed all the grass, and then started to plant the hedge in two rows, with species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, dogwood, maple, and others. He dedicated thought about how these new plants would be able to survive in conditions of drought, and so already by the beginning of March he had placed a protective layer of straw on the ground around the new plants. Each small tree has a guard and a small stake. In short, this is a super job, a great example of how to grow a new hedge in an arable environment, in such a way that it will become established quickly.
Apricot and peach trees flower quite early in the season, even in March or early April. At that time of year there are a lot of night frosts which could cause apricot tree frost damage compromising the crop. Dan presents Carol Wilson, who has constructed a neat solution to the need of protecting apricot tree blossoms when there are night frosts. This specimen is a Golden Glow apricot planted in February 2017, so it is now about two and a half years old. It has been planted against a south-facing wall, and it has been carefully trained, so that all the leaves have excellent exposure to light. When it was planted, Carol ensured that there were no tree roots at the site, and removed all grass in the immediate area. She improved the soil with chicken pellets put into the hole. She made a frame that provides protection from muntjac and roe deer. Putting the frame up also gave Carol the chance to install a rail at the top, a piece of plastic tubing, that holds some garden fleece, hemmed as if it were a curtain. So each night, Carol closes the curtains to provide protection, and it is so easy that she can do it anyway, even if she is not certain whether or not there will be a frost. Dan provides some indications on apricot tree care and how to continue the apricot espalier training pattern. The success of this tree is shown by the abundant fruit already present in the tree’s third year. Dan also comments on apricot pruning – it is important not to cut out the thin wood, because the fruits are found on the one-year-old wood. This also applies to peaches.
If you are moving to a new garden, you will be faced with the question of whether the soil is suitable for growing good fruit trees. To find out the answer, a soil analysis is crucial. It is not expensive, and a soil analysis kit is available from the Royal Horticultural Society soil analysis lab at Wisley. The soil analysis procedure is not complicated: you send them an email, they will send you some containers in which to put some soil and ask you what you are thinking of growing, and within a fortnight, they will let you know whether the site is suitable in terms of fruit tree soil requirements. As trees are comparatively expensive, they can be thought of as a long-term investment, and so they deserve an initial examination of what will become their new home. One of the most important factors revealed by a soil analysis is the pH of the soil. Different plants have different preferences: for example, azaleas and rhododendrons prefer acid soils, with a pH of 4 or 5 (7 is neutral). Apple trees on the other hand prefer slightly acidic or neutral soils, so pH 6 to 7. When you receive the soil analysis report from the RHS, it will show the pH and it will also inform you of the soil’s suitability for what you want to grow and on amending new garden soil if necessary. The analysis will also tell you the type of soil, clay, loam, sand, or a mixture. It will give you the percentages of three substances that are very important for fruit trees, magnesium, potash and phosphate. The recommendations on fruit tree soil preparation are clear and straightforward, and if you follow their advice, the trees will do well. So if you are moving to a new house with a new garden, a soil analysis will help you enjoy tasty fruit that you have grown yourself. The RHS website is www.rhs.org.co.uk
April 30, 2019
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A cherry tree in a garden may not set fruit for several reasons. One reason could be the lack of pollination – the transfer of pollen from one cherry variety to another that is essential for fruit set. If you have just the one cherry tree in your garden, you can compensate for this problem by cutting a branch from another cherry tree in blossom, putting it into a milk bottle with water, and placing the bottle at the centre of your tree. Bees will then visit the flowers both of the branch and the tree itself, and perform the cross-pollination needed to get a crop. It’s a simple but effective technique.
April 22, 2019
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In a previous video, Dan Neuteboom explained that it is best not to prune pear trees until it is clear which buds are fruit buds, and so should be left on, and which are wood buds, and so can be pruned to control the size and vigour of the tree. That was late February-early March. We are now in the middle of April, and the results are evident. The three different pear varieties are all fan-trained and so use a minimal amount of space on the wall. The trees are facing south, pollination is good (because of the proximity of different varieties), temperatures are good, flowers are dominant, and so a very good fruit set can be expected. Some thinning may be necessary, and that will be the subject of another video.
April 20, 2019
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Trees need a lot of help in the first five years of their life. When you plant a new tree, its root system has to completely regrow, and it can only do this if there is enough moisture. A good way of helping the tree in this regard is to put mulch on the ground around it. The mulch retains moisture levels in the soil and encourages the bacterial activity that causes its own gradual breakdown, so that it enters the soil and adds nutrients. Trees love organic matter. But mulch can also have a negative side. Mice may make their nests under the mulch and in the winter months they may eat the bark of the tree. This can be avoided by ensuring that the mulch is not in direct contact with the trunk.
Another important aspect of planting a new tree is to protect it from deer, muntjacks, hares and rabbits. As soon as you have planted a tree, put a guard on it straight away. In the case of deer, a higher protection may be necessary.
April 19, 2019
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It is a good idea to take a look at your tree at regular intervals and assess its overall health. The colour of the bark provides a good indication of health. If the colour of the trunk and main limbs is a bright grey shade, you can be sure that there are no drainage problems, and the root system is happy. If on the other hand the colour of the main trunk is reddish, this is an indication that the tree has been waterlogged, and the root system has suffered. In this case the only solution is to try to improve the drainage.
At this time of the year, April, you can check for other diseases that are easier to locate when there are still no leaves on the tree, such as bacterial canker and ordinary tree canker which is caused by a fungus. If you find canker, use a special curved canker knife to cut it out. Cut away the brownish, canker-affected parts until the wound is entirely green. Then coat the wound with anti-fungal paint. The tree will heal the wound itself.
April 14, 2019
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Dan Neuteboom shows us a 15-year old pear tree that was cropping irregularly. To improve the situation, he grafted a second pear variety onto the main variety, right at the centre of the tree, choosing a variety that flowers slightly earlier, so that the pollen of the grafted variety is ready as soon as the flowers of the main variety are opening. The system helps ensure good cross-pollination, encouraging fruit set, and therefore a good crop. An easier way to obtain the same effect is to place some flowering branches in a bottle and hang it in the tree. The graft is a permanent solution. See this video for more details on how to perform the graft. Click to watch.
April 10, 2019
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Dan takes a look at a 7-year old pear tree that is showing evident signs of distress. Trees react to the treatment that you give them. In this specimen, there is very little fruit bud, and the new shoots are very thin. The problem is caused by the competition of grass and stinging nettles. To take action, a square metre around the tree has to be cleared of grass and nettles, best done by covering the area with mulch that will smother the weeds. Secondly, the tree centre should be opened up so that light can get back into the centre. Thirdly, give the tree some extra food, namely extra water, and farmyard manure if possible. Trees are like people: people can survive for quite a long time without food, but trees and people cannot survive long without water. Here you can see a combination: the tree didn’t get enough water because of the enormous competition with the nettles, and on top of that it didn’t get any food whatsoever. Yet pears are by nature very strong-growing trees.